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Bolton nursery owner issues warning over free childcare plan

By Davinia Ramos & Paul Burnell

BBC News

The owner of two nurseries has said the government’s plans to expand free childcare across England would be “hugely challenging”.

Julie Robinson, who runs Eagley School House nurseries in Bolton, said she had huge waiting lists for places.

To secure one, she said expectant mothers were coming to her when they were only six to eight weeks pregnant.

The government said it was confident the childcare market was strong enough to deliver the huge expansion.

From April, working parents of two-year-olds in England are promised 15 hours’ free care a week, increasing to 30 hours for all under-fives from September 2025.

This would increase the burden on nurseries, said Ms Robinson, who further warned: “If funding doesn’t match inflation… I won’t be able to stay open.”

Ms Robinson, who has been in the industry for 25 years and employs 60 staff across two sites in Greater Manchester, said she was “struggling month on month” to find about £40,000 in business rates, running costs and wages.

She urged the government to “fund the sector properly, otherwise we will fail children and their parents”.

She has 200 children on her books, but that number is expected to rise when two-year olds are included from April.

From April, the government has promised working parents of two-year-olds in England 15 hours’ free care a week

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We are confident in the strength of our childcare market to deliver the largest-ever expansion in childcare in England’s history, and we are already seeing providers looking to expand their placements across the country.

“The Institute for Fiscal Studies has independently reported that the average funding rates for two-year-olds and under twos paid by government from April 2024 are projected to be substantially higher than the market rate paid by parents last year.

“And we have committed to further increases to provider rates for the next two years, backed by an estimated £500m.”

Labour has commissioned a review of the government’s £4bn expansion of free childcare, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson told BBC Newsnight on Tuesday.

She said the party would not commit to the plan, claiming the Conservatives had “no plan about how they make it happen”.

Ms Phillipson added: “We’ve heard from providers that they are just going to really struggle to make this happen.”

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